Monthly Archives: March 2009

Heffalump, Botulism, Ducks, and Bread

The heffalump is all done.  C is not wild about it, but that’s okay.  H was enthusiastic, and Brad liked it well enough to offer his opnion on the finishing heffalump_033109

(specifically, he felt that the ears needed to be very floppy.  I obliged.)

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Here’s an unrelated one of C.

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C started eating applesauce yesterday.  There’s been a discussion on a canning group I’m on about the safety of feeding home-canned foods to a baby.  I feel that as long as it was canned according to USDA-recommended methods (which is all I use), it is fine.  The discussion of a baby’s susceptibility to botulism spores was interesting.  I mean, maybe that is the case, maybe the spores, even dormant,  cause a problem for them (which they don’t for non-babies).  However, I didn’t exactly ADD spores to the applesauce before processing.  There may be some present (prevented from producing toxin by the acidity level, in this case), but there are no more than there would be in a fresh apple I may cook and mash up.  Am I to avoid that as well?  That’s total rubbish, and that’s why I’m led to think that this rumor is either from people who are ill-informed or from baby food companies.  Or maybe people who distrust home-canned foods.  I am not prone to conspiracy theories, but really.  I have looked and asked and discussed and I have not found an argument that makes any sense to me.  Am I supposed to only feed my child super-high-pressure-processed foods?  That would be AWESOME for vitamin intake, now wouldn’t it.  Sheesh.

In other news, the Mandarin ducks are back.  They seem to have been nesting somewhere around here for the last couple years, at least, but I don’t know exactly where.  We see them every year in the spring, but they leave sometime during the summer.

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I think I’ll make some bread today, in between bouts of working and babycare.  I’m really in the mood for cornbread, but I’m trying to learn how to make a really good loaf of WW.  So far the secret appears to be added gluten (I HATE doing that!) and kneading for 20-30 minutes.  That’s, um, kinda long.  I’m hoping (against hope) that I’ll find a shortcut that doesn’t involve white flour.  I expect to settle, eventually, on finding a good ratio between home-ground WW flour and store-bought white flour to make a good texture without an insane amount of kneading.  And, hopefully, without the added straight-up gluten.  I prefer adding just white flour because it is tasty and inexpensive and can cut the kneading time.  It does cut the protein content, so maybe it’s not the best.  What can I say?  I am lazy.  Maybe using hard white wheat would make a difference, but I still have around 40# of hard red to work through before trying that route.

Reminds me, I should post the recipe for some sprouted bread (very high protein!) I made a couple of weeks ago.  It was interesting, different, very hearty — the perfect bread for a simple shepherd’s meal of a chunk of bread and a chunk of cheese.  It took a while, but I was able to finally use the manual meat grinder I picked up last year at a thrift store.  Cool.

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March Snow, Simple Motor, and No Pictures

Snowy day today — it was blowing and snowing all morning, and we had about an inch or two of accumulation here.  I was aware that a front would be arriving, and I’m glad H and I planted the green onions and shallots yesterday, but I was a little surprised by the amount of precipitation.  I have a gut feeling this will be the last of this year’s accumulating snow in the valley.  It’s nice, not too cold, the kind of snow that will sink right in as it melts and recharge groundwater.  Well, the stuff in the valley, anyway.  The melt from the slopes will still come roaring down the creek.  Skeery.

Today H was playing with Tinker toys and made a little car.   This is not an uncommon occurrence.  But he surprised me by asking if he could motorize it (not those words, but that’s essentially what he wanted).  I kind of laughed and pulled him up on my lap to google pictures of motors so I could explain why that would be quite difficult.  Wouldn’t you know one of the first hits for “simple motor” was a You Tube video of a motor made of a AA battery, a wire bent just so, and a neodymium magnet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOdboRYf1hM).  You can imagine how the next hour or so was spent, I suppose.  We did get our motor going, but not fast at all.  I think I will not buy any more of these magnets at present, as they are so strong, and I have an awful vision of C eating a couple and then getting parts of his GI tract twisted up by them.  But someday later I’d love to get a little stack and make a motor that can really whir.  This project is way beyond H, anyway.  He was excited about it, but it was definitely Brad and I who were trying to figure it out with our goofy materials.

Baby poop update:  I think we won’t give C any more avocado for awhile, as it appears to make his poor little bottom bleed (just the skin on the outside, no internal bleeds around here thanks).  I’m thinking it must be something about the pH, not an allergic reaction.  I think I’ll just sorta watch and see what happens.  He doesn’t really complain about it, but poor kid.

By the way, I am still trying to figure out comments, etc.  I’m pretty ignorant about this undertaking, and I didn’t really bother learning what to do before starting to post, so I’m just sort of muddling through.  If I do something wrong or don’t respond, please don’t take offense.  I’m probably just bumbling.

Apple Pie and an Old Friend

An old friend K came by with her husband tonight.  She’s very pregnant, fit to burst, and so we fed them, talked about labor and childbirth (oh, and bible!  you can talk bible forevaaaaaaah — if you’re not Brad), and sent them away with some more maternity clothing I dug out and promises of the bassinet on loan.  It was really lovely to see her again.  People like her are one of the reasons I blog at all.  I am so, so lame about picking up the phone and calling people, and almost as lame about e-mailing.  My hope is that having thissy here blog will help other people see what I’m doing and maybe, can stimulate conversations and relationships that otherwise would just sort of wither from lack of attention.  Of course, this blog has nothing to do with the fact that I got to see K again, but you know. The visit just reminded me how nice it can be to keep/revive contact with people you really like but don’t see too often anymore.

Brad made an awesome supper of Lemon & Garlic Asparagus (recipe below) and apple pie (!!)  Do you see those specks in the crust?

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Do you?  Do you?  Those are flax seed and wheat germ.  This husband of mine is a wonder.  I realize that apple pie is not the best example of this, but if it weren’t for him I would be eating popcorn and Swiss Cake Rolls every day.  And that would just be sad, wouldn’t it?

I worked the pick-up at the Food Co-op this morning, so had a ridiculous number of apples and lemons on hand — hence tonight’s menu.  I also grabbed a few extra peppers at the end that were leftover.  I am on the lookout now for a good price on bell peppers at a supermarket to make a large enough batch for canning roasted bell peppers.  I miss having those on hand — so yummy.  That’s the first thing I ever pressure-canned, and I had grave doubts about ever using it.  Though they sealed, they leaked a lot of liquid, and they were hideously ugly in the jars, but I needn’t have worried.  They add great flavor to fall/winter meals when peppers are pricey and imported long distances.  Also, I saw a jar at the store the other day selling for $5 (it wasn’t even quite a full pint).  So they are an economical luxury for anytime I happen across inexpensive (or free!) ripe bells.

Recipe:  Lemon & Garlic Asparagus

Steam a bunch of trimmed asparagus (two or three bunches) until just
tender. Or open a jar, whatever.

Heat 4 Tb butter and 4 Tb olive oil in a large frying pan. Sautee 7-
9 cloves of minced garlic for a minute or two. Add cooked asparagus,
toss to coat. Let heat through for another minute or two. Deglaze
with a quarter cup lemon juice and quarter cup white wine (or enough
to make it vaguely sauce-like).

Serve over pasta (I used whole wheat rotini pasta).

It sounds like a lot of asparagus, in fact a lot of everything, but
it’s killer, really.

Let’s just De-Gentrify Organic Gardening a little, shall we?

For today’s post, I would like to talk about poop.

Surprise! Not baby poop! (But for the record, Baby C started eating sweet potatoes on Tuesday the 24th, and no significant poop changes have been detected.)

I have been thinking about composted steer manure.  If that’s not your thing, I will provide a diversion now, right upfront, because after this paragraph I will be droning on and on about it.

Here, have a half-done toy elephant being knitted for Baby C.  I enjoy calling it the headless heffalump and I find it very, very adorable, even without a head.

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And here’s a cat tree kindly given to us last night by some friends who are moving.  It was very well-loved, so we immediately cleaned it up and replaced the carpeting on the post.  Our two furry neuropaths seem satisfied with it.

So.  Composted steer manure.   I bought some recently and scratched it in a bit in the garden bed.

Some people think that steer manure is not good enough to use as a soil amendment, just too plebian or something.  They like to claim that compost is better (and their definition of compost is both stringent and, um, incorrect).  They are not fully informed.  If you should encounter one of these people and you feel that this is, indeed, a battle you’d like to pick, here’s a little help:

1. Steer manure can be composted.  That makes it compost.  It is not non-compost.  When it’s composted, it smells like compost, not poop.  I can barely smell anything, and even I can tell.  Follow your nose on this.

If it’s uncomposted, then it stinks and may burn your plants.  If it’s insufficiently composted, then it stinks and may burn your plants, but less.

2. It may not contain every micronutrient your plants need (depending on your soil).  That is okay.  Just accept that it does not contain all that is needed and find other ways to supplement.

3. It is very cheap.  Yay!  This is crucial sometimes, damn it.

4. Since it is compost, it can improve your soil’s structure (which improves all sorts of water movement.  Seriously.  Good idea.)

5. It is even better in combination with other types of soil amendments, since they may contain other nutrients and different particle sizes.  That’s even better for your soil’s structure.  Yup, so I’m not saying it’s the ONLY good thing for your soil, but that it can have a role.  If it’s all you can afford, go for it.  You’ll probably be fine (again, depending on your soil).

6. While it may or may not be true (I don’t know) that modern steer manure is not as full of nutrients as old-timey steer manure due to modern cattle-raising methods, that doesn’t mean that it is useless.  I know this is not a real scientific test, but it has a humus-y smell, so I am pretty confident that it’s good and useful for soil.

There are two valid arguments I can think of against using composted steer manure:
A. It comes from feedlot cattle and cattle in feedlots is not a very good thing for many reasons.  And y’all, I’m a vegetarian, so this one holds water for me.  Not enough water, though.  I’ll go for it as a byproduct of an industry that makes the VAST majority of its money from other products of the feedlot confinement.

B. It can contain an undesirable level of salts.  If that’s a concern, don’t use it.  I have never encountered any real situation where this was a problem, though, and I live in an area where saline and even sodic soils are issues and I’ve talked to many, many people about garden problems.  So take this concern with a grain of salt (ha!)

I think this is a reasonable topic for discussion because I am concerned about the gentrification of all things healthy, like organic gardening (among oh-so-many other things).  Gardening can save money in some situations.  Using fewer pesticides can save money.  Working on improving your garden soil instead of investing a lot in fertilizers can save money.  But some people insist that one spend a lot of money of fancy composts, and that prices a bunch of people out.  It’s so, so wrong.

So if you’re auditioning soil conditioners, at least let composted steer manure read a few lines.

Maybe I should make a t-shirt about composted steer manure.

YoYo Clown

I finished this little clown up this morning.  I originally intended it for H, to take some sting away from the fact that I plan to knit a little multi-colored elephant toy for C.  But when I asked H if he would like one, he said no.  But then he brightened up and offered to help me make it for C.  So it went.  H impressed me.  He cut out many of the circles, did some of the stitching (with assistance), and gathered up many yoyos too.  And he helped assemble the final product.  I even convinced (coerced?) Brad to help out, gathering up a few of the yoyos.

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It was lots of fun to make.  I think I could maybe get into the handsewing thing.  I’ve never loved sewing on a machine, and a couple of years ago it started to dawn on me that it’s at least partly because I don’t like being tied to the machine (obviously, that’s not the whole problem, since I do enjoy spinning on my wheel.  It’s only slightly more portable.)  But handsewing really takes care of that issue! I have a book on general needlework from the library right now I’m perusing.  I used it to help me figure out how to put hair on this little guy.  Um, the doll, not the babe.

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I got the idea for this clown from the book “MaryJane’s Stitching Room” by MaryJane Butters.  I read her weekly column, which is published in the local paper, also, and I’ve paid enough attention to know that (1) I like some of what she offers and (2) she has awesome hair.

Friends and Food, Food and Friends

Yesterday I was delighted to have a knitting friend who had moved away come by a visit on her way out of town.  It was nice to see Anne again, and nice to meet her man, J.  H shares a birthday with Anne, and he enjoys frequently reciting the three different Anne’s we know (he was only reciting two before, but now he has added “the Anne in Canada”).

This evening the D’s visited.  They will be moving soon (sad).  Little A is getting much easier to communicate with (for me as her not-mom).  I guess we will need to find reasons to visit.  I think we should just swing by on a driving trip to PA.  Brad will take a lot of convincing for that, though.  And I, myself, would only want to undertake such an effort if we had it really well-planned.

Yesterday when I arrived home from the grocery store, I found Brad madly kneading bread dough.  I really do think the kneading was a bit madder than the usual kind.  He excitedly pointed me to a website that explained some principles of making good WW bread at home.  The most striking (um, disturbing?) thing, by far, was the recommendation to knead for 20-30 minutes.  Do you see why I might view his kneading as mad now?  The author was quite correct, however, at least if your goal is soft bread that is excellent for sandwiches.

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It’s not artisan-style bread, but it is very good.  I like something a wee bit denser/crustier/more robust for eating at the table, but this will serve us well now that we’re back on peanut butter (we’ve been avoiding it, but I finally decided a couple of days ago to be the guinea pig and eat some.  I haven’t gotten sick, so we’re full speed ahead now).

I canned some pickled Brussels sprouts today.  The mere thought of this particular food was the final straw that pushed me to buy a new canner last year.  I had only gotten rid of the steam canner last December or so – I so wish now that I hadn’t, but I couldn’t stop thinking of these once I had started (no, I’ve never even tasted any before, so it’s still just a thought).  I was propelled me to purchase a new canner, this time a PC (not because it’s needed for this recipe but because it just seemed like a better long-term buy.  It was, hands down.  Please keep in mind that you are reading the words of a tightwad; that’s how much value I feel the PC has over the BWB)  But by the time I had acquired the canner, I had missed Brussels sprouts season.  Weeping…
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Today, fulfillment!  Here they are in their olive-green glory.  I am having difficulty not opening a jar right now today, but I will have to wait about 6 weeks for them to cure.  Oh man oh man oh man.  I can only barely restrain myself.  Oh, sweet, sweet (I mean, sour, sour) pickled sprouts!

Mad Engineering Skillz

Inspired by a picture in an “I Spy” book, but we had to improvise on several things.  Built and operated by H and me.

Avocadoes, love ’em or hate ’em

Raeann, the midwife who delivered C, came by for a visit earlier this week.  In the course of the conversation, she stated that people either love or hate avocadoes.  Normally, this would be an unremarkable thing to say.

Today C was introduced to pureed avocado.  (By the way, it looks a teensy bit neato in the baby food mill):

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At every bit he gave me an uncertain, slightly distressed expression.  Which camp will he fall into?

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

We spent much of today at the Bear River National Migratory Bird Refuge. This is a place we have visited several times, but I haven’t been there since 2007. Today I got to see the Tundra Swans, which I haven’t seen before, despite having visited in March before. I couldn’t get close to any of them, and my camera and binoculars were not quite adequate to get a really close-up view, but there were thousands of them. And they were clearly illustrating why they are not called mute swans (one of my books said their call was like yodelling. I kind of like that, and I can corroborate it.)

Here is a list of what we saw today (and a few notable no-shows), for reference next year. This past winter has been pretty mild and relatively dry in the Salt Lake Valley. The past month has been pretty warm, and the past week very very warm, in the 60s every day.

  • Tundra Swans, thousands
  • Coots
  • Double-Crested Cormorants
  • Mallards
  • Blue-winged teal (I think)
  • Common goldeneyes
  • Pelican (only one — I was so surprised when the giant white sleeping bird stirred and showed a huge yellow beak!)
  • Yellow-headed blackbirds
  • Western meadowlarks
  • Horned larks (I think)
  • Great Blue Heron (only one this year — we saw several a couple of years ago in March — it was hunting, probably frogs, holding perfectly still and staring down into the water)
  • Harrier (notable because there were three hunting together, and I assume at least one was a juvenille)
  • Bald eagle (adult, solitary, hunting above the harriers)
  • Sandhill cranes (at least 16 — eating in a recently plowed, muddy field — I’ve never seen so many together before. They tended to be moving in pairs, but not all of them were.)
  • Avocets (only a few)
  • Killdeer
  • Canada geese
  • California gulls (and maybe ringbills, I didn’t look very closely)

Things we did not see which we have seen at other times of year:

  • Night Herons
  • Any types of ducks other than the above-mentioned ones — there may have been Gadwalls — I’m no good at distinguishing them from female Mallards — so, no other teals, Pintails, Redheads, Canvasbacks, Buffleheads, Ruddies, Shovellers
  • Red-winged blackbirds
  • Any type of grebe
  • Any type of swallow
  • Stilts
  • Any type of tern
  • Franklin gulls
  • Glossy ibis
  • Pheasant
  • Muskrats
  • Snowy egrets

I took only pictures of snakes. I just can’t get good picture of the birds, most of the time. But next to the place where we usually eat lunch, each spring the slope next to the pavilion is slithering with snakes. There weren’t a whole bunch today (yet?) but here’s a pic of one of the larger ones coming out of his hidey-hole.

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Eating! And Gardening!

Last week C started to eat solid foods.  I am not so sad about this in a sentimental way as I am in the practical way that his poop will now begin to stink.  Has begun to, rather.  We started him with commercial (whole grain! organic! we are stereotypes!) rice cereal, and have now also introduced bananas.  I might record each introduction here so I can find it later.  It seems weird, but people ask me relatively often when and how to introduce various baby foods.  It’s as if I’m some kind of expert, which I’m clearly not, having only had experience with 1.5 babies.  But hey,  I am a sentimental sap, and maybe someday I’ll just want to know.  This blog is for my own recordkeeping purposes, too.

Here he is at his first meal.  You can see he is really wanting to take charge.  He’s an independent fellow.  Wonder where that came from?

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We rented a plot at a community garden this year in a town a couple over.  I’ve been torn about whether DRIVING to a community garden makes any sense at all, energy-wise, emissions-wise, money-wise.  And I really don’t know the answer to that.  But I finally decided that soul-wise it made perfect sense, so I rented it.  We all went down there late Sunday morning and cleared the weeds.  We kind of accidentally hand-tilled it while we were at it.  I sure wish we’d taken a camera for before-and-after pictures.  Last night I finished up the list, calendar, and diagram for planting it.  This week I’ll put in the scallions and shallots, I think.